Hiring without the Headaches

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., owner of Ask The Business Lawyer, is an award-winning business attorney, speaker, and Entrepreneur Magazine online contributor. She saves consulting and professional services companies time, money, and aggravation by serving as their outsourced legal counsel.

Posted on September 14, 2013 in Employee Issues

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Even small businesses need a hiring process.

Making the leap from business owner to employer takes a combination of faith, a strong stomach and smart planning. After all, once you decide to become an employer, you agree to take on a bushel of issues above and beyond just paying a regular salary. There are taxes to be withheld (for which you are personally liable, regardless of the business entity you’ve chosen), benefits to be offered and more employment legislation than you can shake a stick at.

So how can you make sure you handle hiring intelligently? Think through your hiring process even before you take on that first employee. Here are a few elements you’ll want to include:

Clear job descriptions.You can’t know who’s right for a position until you decide what the position entails. If you’re hiring a bookkeeper, “just anyone” won’t do. You may want the candidates to have attained a certain educational level or have practical experience in this line of work. Your run-of- the-mill college English major probably won’t cut it. A clear job description can also help you steer clear of various discrimination laws. If a position requires heavy physical work or absolutely requires an employee’s presence on the Sabbath (e.g., in the wedding planning business), including that in the description can help you avoid claims that you discriminated in hiring under the American with Disabilities Act or other discrimination statutes.

Interview training (for you!). Entrepreneurs don’t necessarily emerge from the womb able to interview other people well. When screening employees, listen more and speak less, which often runs counter to our basic nature (to talk about ourselves). It’s also not a time to get chatty and chummy. Those obvious and friendly questions that make perfect sense in a social setting–like asking a noticeably pregnant woman her due date–could land you in the courthouse on a sex discrimination claim if you don’t hire her. Consider getting coaching through this process or engaging an HR firm to handle it for you.

Background checks. “Such a nuisance,” you complain. “The candidate looks fine, has a good resume, speaks well. What’s the problem?” The problem is: You can’t always take people at face value, especially if you’re employing them for sensitive positions. Would you want to employ someone with serious credit problems if you’re a financial services firm (just think of the temptation to take clients’ money)? Disclose that all job positions are subject to your receiving good reports from these checks. And by law, all employees must be U.S. citizens, resident aliens or otherwise eligible to receive wages. Have Form I-9 (required by the Department of Homeland Security) ready for them to fill out and have them provide proof of citizenship/residency status.

Employee handbooks. Small companies thrive on being nimble and unburdened by bureaucratic paperwork. But the lack of clear guidelines can get you into hot water when it comes to employees. Any inconsistencies in the benefits you offer or enforcement of policies can provide just the hook a disgruntled employee needs to pry open a legal can of worms (especially once you decide to fire her). An employee handbook lets you determine the policies and procedures that will apply objectively to all employees. When you’re consistent, you can deflect many claims of unfair treatment.

Employees can provide you with an amazing opportunity for business growth. Bringing them into the fold needs to involve perhaps a bit more of a system than you’re used to dealing with. So engage a good employment attorney to help you developed a streamlined process. She can guide you on the best way to hire . . . without the headaches.

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